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Der Rosenkavalier

FLORENCE
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
5/11/12

The surging ovation that greeted Zubin Mehta at the beginning of Act III of the final performance of Der Rosenkavalier (May 11) at the Maggio Musicale seemed to invest the conductor with new energy, inspiring him to attack the opening bars of that last act with a degree of emotional participation that had not been present earlier. Mehta sustained that intensity right through the closing bars of the opera (followed by another ovation). In the earlier acts, the soaring melodies and engaging rhythms, however elegantly molded and precisely articulated, had seemed lacking in buoyancy. The lovemaking that opens Act I sounded particularly pedestrian, and the body of string sound, in the dry acoustic of the Teatro Comunale, lacked allure (with few portamentos in evidence), although the individual playing seemed never less than accomplished. Surprisingly, these were the seventy-six-year-old music director's first performances of Strauss's masterwork.

The new production by director Eike Gramss and designer Hans Schavernoch (with the added benefit of Manfred Voss's superb lighting) was also at its best in the final act. The tavern scene was rich in atmosphere and full of well-observed detail, without upsetting the delicate expressive balance between the farcical and the serious. The final trio and duet were played against a striking panorama of the entire city of Vienna. Chronologically, the staging oscillated not too incoherently between Hofmannsthal's vision of the eighteenth century and the period of the opera's composition in the early twentieth. Extensive use was made of mirror images, highlighting our awareness of the Marschallin's introspectiveness, but risking — in a number of scenes — a certain loss of focus.

Angela Denoke has sung the Marschallin on many of the world's principal stages and her portrayal, while not markedly aristocratic, conveys a degree of charm and emotional spontaneity. Her voice is still serviceable for the role, but it lacks both the middle-range luster and the floating legato that other sopranos have brought to this music. As Octavian, Caitlin Hulcup offered a voice as slim as her figure, and the boisterous sensuality of Act I was clearly simulated rather than deeply felt. The romantic stillness of the encounter with Sophie in Act II worked better; Hulcup's Mariandel was all the more effective for sticking to the promptings of the score rather than adding extra business. Except for a couple of slightly arid top notes, Sylvia Schwarz phrased Sophie's music with ease and beauty and suggested the character's loquacity without become petulant. Kristinn Sigmundsson overdid things at times as Ochs, but his singing was distinctly colorful, with an adequate lower range, and he never gave the impression of simply going through a well-rehearsed routine. 

Director Gramss proved adept at presenting the secondary characters. Eike Wilm Schulte gave us an unusually well sung and psychologically credible Faninal, and Niklas Björling Rygert and Anna Maria Chiuri were ever enjoyable to watch and listen to as Valzacchi and Annina. Celso Albelo offered a refined execution of the Italian Singer's aria, and Pawel Izdebski's Police Commissioner was appropriately formidable. spacer

STEPHEN HASTINGS

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